Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Play Date

Trends in Playground Equipment

By Hayli Morrison


When it comes to learning on the playground, physical education isn't the only subject getting attention. Music education, another area seeing funding cuts in schools, is increasingly prevalent on playgrounds. Trendy musical elements are unique and fun, drawing kids to unwittingly learn about music, even when there is no teacher around.

One play equipment manufacturer recently debuted a line of playground instruments, accompanied by a standards-based "Playbook." Based on traditional African and Caribbean instruments like bongos and the djembe, this play equipment helps children learn about rhythmic, tonal and vocal music in a colorful play environment. The Playbook helps teachers take the learning experience to the next level with activities that teach pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students specifically how to use the instruments in a freestyle or structured group setting.

"Each and every one of the instruments has a story behind it," said Tom Norquist, senior vice president of the Alabama-based company that manufactures the musical play events. "The ashiko and djembe drums were used as communication devices. All of these instruments have historical meaning. The shapes and forms are very close to the originals, so the kids are fascinated by them. They ask what it is and how you use it, so it's really fun to go into a play environment and show the kids how to do that."

The concept resulted in part from studies of children on playgrounds—specifically, how children interacted with musical panels featuring things like xylophone or piano keys. The discovery: Panels weren't working effectively to teach children.

"In studying children, we did not find that kids would stick around and do anything there of any consequence, so they became just noisemakers," Norquist said.

Following that discovery, the company held a product rollout event for its new interpretation of musical playground elements in 2008. Norquist recalled the enthusiastic reaction of children when they saw the unique, colorful instruments.

"Within about five minutes, they had some rhythm going," he said. "So then we played a game where the other kids could move on the other playground equipment in coordination with the rhythm. It was so much fun and so engaging, and truly intergenerational."